Imposter Syndrome and how to manage it

I don’t know about you but I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome, where I’ve felt like I’m not good enough and like people are going to find out. I’ve felt inadequate in relationships, in my career, and even in friendship circles. I’ve tried to be someone I am not. The cool, fun, go-with-the-flow girl. When in reality I’m kinda nerdy, and I’d rather be in bed by 10 pm LOL. Have you?

I thought I was alone in feeling this way, as most people seem to have their ish together. However, Despina Senatore has advised that nearly 70% of people will experience Imposter Syndrome in their lifetime.

Have you ever found yourself thinking:

  • “I don’t know what I’m doing”
  • “I will fail”
  • “I’m sure people will soon find out that I am a fraud.”

If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions then rest assured you are not alone in having thoughts like these. While self-doubt in your abilities, especially at work, from time to time is normal, having such thoughts and feeling like a fraud continuously might mean that you suffer from Imposter Syndrome[1].

How people with imposter syndrome feel

“Those suffering from impostor syndrome will often feel like they don’t deserve their achievements. That it’s only because of luck and not because they are competent or skilled; and at worst feel like complete frauds who are in danger of being exposed at any minute. It causes stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and can lead to depression. Some sufferers will frequently avoid attempting new challenges because of the fear of failure”, says Despina Senatore, Founder of Purposeful Woman, a consultancy aimed at assisting women to find their true potential in life.

Negative self-talk, dwelling on past mistakes, fear of failure, self-doubt, procrastination, and over-preparing are all signs and symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. If unaddressed it can have a serious negative impact on your health (mental and physical), well-being, relationships, and career prospects.

Imposter Syndrome is rooted and triggered during various life-stages and develops over time. The first seeds are normally planted during children’s formative years when they receive messages (familial, cultural, or societal) about what is expected of them. This affects women more than men as the messages girls receive almost never include taking risks, being leaders, outspoken, and achieving big things in life. Additional triggers include being first-generation graduates or professionals as well as representing specific social groups. The self-doubt creeps in when these trailblazers feel like they need to strive for constant perfection to avoid disappointment and to prove that they belong. Equally, working in toxic environments that consistently undermine certain individuals’ opinions, capabilities and success can trigger feelings of inadequacy and will have them second-guessing themselves.

How this syndrome affects women

Research on impostor syndrome suggests that women are more affected because they are raised and socialised to believe that they aren’t capable of the same successes as men. “The world view is shifting, and women find themselves in more leadership positions than ever before,” says Senatore. “With it comes the ever-present self-doubt asking whether we are there on merit or merely as tokens to have more women in certain positions.” To demonstrate this, a study by learning and development training provider The Hub Events in the UK found that 90% of women in the UK feel inadequate at work and 73% feel like they don’t deserve their success. 

It’s important to understand that feeling like and impostor will mostly be triggered by situations that push you out of our comfort zone. It’s not an ever-present feeling, but it can come and go throughout your life depending on the situation. Understanding what the triggers are for you is the first step to managing impostor syndrome.

Here are a few steps you can take to manage the feelings when they arise:

  • Acknowledge and accept it. At the same time remember that you are not alone.
  • Focus on facts, not feelings. Silence your inner critic and focus on the facts, instead of how you are feeling about yourself in it.
  • List your achievements. Keep a list of your accomplishments and positive feedback on hand to read when you are feeling low.
  • Accept compliments. Instead of deflecting praise, learn to accept it with a simple ‘thank you’.
  • Alter your mindset. Adapt a growth mindset, instead of a fixed one. Replace ‘I can’t do that’ with ‘I can’t do that yet’. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill instead of shying away from it because of fear of failure.
  • Ask for help. Share your feelings with trusted colleagues or friends. Sometimes this can put the situation in perspective.

If left unmanaged, Imposter Syndrome can prevent you from living the life you deserve. Acknowledge it, face it head-on, and put in the work to manage it.

About Despina Senatore

Senatore is the founder and owner of Purposeful Woman. An organisation established to assist women to find their true potential. Purposeful Woman focus on services such as professional business coaching, workshops on imposter syndrome and personal development; and Nancy Kline’s Time to Think workshops.


[1] Impostor Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by Dr Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. (Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247.)

Tamryn Sher
tamrynsher@gmail.com
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